5:1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him1: THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) A. INTRODUCTORY STATEMENTS. Matthew 5:1,2; Luke 6:17-20
And when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him. In sitting
Jesus followed the custom of Jewish teachers. The instruction of Jesus was
at no time embellished with oratorical action. He relied upon the truth
contained in his words, not upon the manner in which he uttered it.
5:2 and he opened his mouth and taught them,
And he opened his mouth, and taught them. Jesus spoke with the
full-toned voice of power--with open mouth.
5:3 Blessed are the
poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven1.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) B.
BEATITUDES: PROMISES TO MESSIAH'S SUBJECTS. Matthew
The sayings in this subdivision are called beatitudes from the word "beati"
(meaning "blessed"), with which they begin in the Vulgate, or Latin
Bible. According to Matthew, these beatitudes are nine in number and seven in
character, for the last two, which concern persecution, do not relate to
traits of character, but to certain external circumstances which lead to
blessings. Luke gives us beatitudes not recorded in Matthew. Most of the
beatitudes are paradoxical, being the very reverse of the world's view, but
Christians who have put them to the test have learned to realize their
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit are those who feel a deep sense of spiritual destitution
and comprehended their nothingness before God. The kingdom of heaven is
theirs, because they seek it, and therefore find and abide in it. To this
virtue is opposed the pride of the Pharisee, which caused him to thank God
that he was not as other men, and to despise and reject the kingdom of
heaven. There must be emptiness before there can be fullness, and so poverty
of spirit precedes riches and grace in the kingdom of God.
5:4 Blessed are
they that mourn: for they shall be comforted1.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. See Isaiah
16:20,21. The blessing is not upon all that mourn (2 Corinthians
7:10); but upon those who mourn in reference to sin. They shall be
comforted by the discovery and appropriation of God's pardon. But all
mourning is traced directly or indirectly to sin. We may take it, therefore,
that in its widest sense the beatitude covers all those who are led by
mourning to a discerning of sin, and who so deplore its effects and
consequences in the world as to yearn for and seek the deliverance which is
in Christ. Those to whom Christ spoke the beatitude bore a double sorrow.
Not only did their own sins afflict their consciences, but the hatred and
opposition of other sinners added many additional sighs and tears. Joy
springs from such sorrow so naturally that it is likened to harvest gathered
from the seed (Psalms
126:6). But sorrows, even apart from a sense of sin, often prove
blessings to us by drawing us near unto God.
5:5 Blessed are the
meek: for they shall inherit the earth1.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. His hearers
were full of hopes that, as Messiah, he would glut their martial spirit, and
lead them to world-wide conquest. But the earth was not to be subjugated to
him by force. Those who were meek and forbearing should receive what the
arrogant and selfish grasp after and cannot get. Beecher says,
"Man the animal has hitherto possessed the globe. Man the divine is
yet to take it. The struggle is going on. But in every cycle more and more
does the world feel the superior authority of truth, purity, justice,
kindness, love, and faith. They shall yet possess the earth".
The meek shall inherit it in two ways: (1) They shall enjoy it more fully
while in it. (2) They shall finally, as part of the triumphant church,
possess and enjoy it. Doubtless there is also a reference to complete
possession to be fulfilled in the new earth (Daniel
5:6 Blessed are they that hunger and thirst
after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they
shall be filled. Our Lord here declares that those who feel a most
intense desire for righteousness shall obtain it. Under no other religion
had such a promise ever been given. Under Christianity the promise is clear
and definite. Compare Romans
7:11,19,25. The promise is realized in part by the attainment of a
higher degree of righteous living, and in part by the perfect forgiveness of
our sins. But the joy of this individual righteousness, blessed as it is,
shall be surpassed by that of the universal righteousness of the new
creation (2 Peter
5:7 Blessed are the
merciful: for they shall obtain mercy1.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. As meekness
is rather a passive virtue, so mercy is an active one. The meek bear, and
the merciful forbear, and for so doing they shall obtain mercy both from God
and man. This beatitude, like the rest, has a subordinate, temporal
application; for God rules the world in spite of sin. This beatitude has
primary reference to the forgiveness of offenses. The forgiving are forgiven
5:8 Blessed are the
pure in heart: for they shall see God1.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. The pure in
heart are those who are free from evil desires and purposes. They have that
similarity of life to the divine life which excludes all uncleanness, and
which enables them to comprehend, after a sympathetic fashion, the motives
are actions of God. Such see God by faith now, that is, by the spiritual
vision of a regenerate heart (Ephesians
1:17,18), and shall see him face to face hereafter (1 Corinthians
13:12; 1 John
3:2,3). The Jews to whom Christ spoke, having their hearts defiled with
carnal hopes and self-righteous pride, failed to see God, as he was then
revealing himself in the person of his Son, thus forming a sad contrast to
the gracious promise of the beatitude. Beecher writes:
"They only can understand God who have in themselves some moral
resemblance to him; and they will enter most largely into the knowledge of
him who are most in sympathy with the divine life".
5:9 Blessed are the
peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God1.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
The term "peacemakers" includes all who make peace between men,
whether as individuals or as communities. It includes even those who
worthily endeavor to make peace, though they fail of success. They shall be
called God's children, because he is the God of peace (Romans
16:20 2 Corinthians
13:11); whose supreme purpose is to secure peace (Luke
2:14); and who gave his Son to be born into this world as the Prince of
9:6). Here again Jesus varies from human ideas. In worldly kingdoms the
makers of war stand highest, but in his kingdom peacemakers outrank them,
for the King himself is a great Peacemaker (Colossians
5:10 Blessed are
they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake1:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake,
etc. Those who suffer because of their loyalty to the kingdom of heaven are
blessed by being bound more closely to that kingdom for which they suffer.
5:11 Blessed are
ye when [men] shall reproach you1, and persecute you, and
say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Blessed are ye when [men] shall reproach you, etc. The Master here
presents the various forms of suffering which would come upon the disciples
by reason of their loyalty to him. We shall find several like statements as
we proceed with the gospel story. They would first be conscious of the
coldness of their brethren before the secret hate became outspoken and
active. Later they should find themselves excommunicated from the synagogue
16:2). This act in turn would be followed by bitter reproaches and
blasphemy of the sacred name by which they were called--the name Christian (James
2:7; 1 Peter
4:4). Farrar says,
""Malefic" or "execrable superstition" was the
favorite description of Christianity among Pagans (Tacitus, Ann. 15:44;
Suetonius, Nero, 16), and Christians were charged with incendiarism,
cannibalism, and every infamy."
All this would finally culminate in bloody-handed persecution, and
procure the death of Christ's followers by forms of law; all manner of false
and evil accusations would be brought against them.
5:12 Rejoice, and
be exceeding glad1: for great is
your reward in heaven2: for so
persecuted they the prophets that were before you3.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad. In commanding rejoicing under such
circumstances Jesus seemed to make a heavy demand upon his disciples, but it
is a demand which very many have responded to Acts
For great is your reward in heaven. Anticipations of the glorious
future are a great tonic.
For so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. For
instances of persecution of the prophets, see 1 Kings
19:10; 2 Chronicles
16:10 1 Kings
22:27; 2 Chronicles
5:13 Ye are the
salt of the earth1: but if the salt have lost its savor,
wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast
out and trodden under foot of men.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) C.
INFLUENCE AND DUTIES OF MESSIAH'S SUBJECTS. Matthew
Ye are the salt of the earth, etc. Salt has been used from time
immemorial as an agent in the preservation of meats. The multitudes which
heard Jesus were familiar with its use in curing fish. G.A. Smith notes,
"The pickled fish of Galilee were known throughout the Roman
It is worthy of note that the salt of Palestine gathered from the marshes
is not pure. Because of the foreign substances in it, it loses its savor and
becomes insipid and useless when exposed to the sun and air, or when
permitted for any considerable time to come in contact with the ground; but
pure salt does not lose its savor. The verse teaches that God's people keep
the world from putrefaction and corruption. There was not salt enough in the
antediluvian world to save it from the flood, in Sodom to save it from fire,
nor in Canaan to preserve its people from destruction. It also teaches--as
does experience--that a disciple may lose those qualities which make him
salt. See notes at Mark
5:14 Ye are the
light of the world1. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
Ye are the light of the world. As light dispels darkness and
enables a man to see his way, so the Christian, by his teaching and example,
removes ignorance and prejudice, and discloses the way of life.
A city set on an hill cannot be hid. The church, reflecting the
light of Christ, is of necessity a conspicuous body, so that neither its
blemishes nor its beauty can be concealed. For air and for protection cities
were frequently built upon hills. Jerusalem and Samaria were both hill
5:15 Neither do
[men] light a lamp1, and put it under the bushel, but on
the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house.
Neither do [men] light a lamp. Lamps were then crude affairs
without chimneys, in which, for the most part, olive oil was burned. Candles
were not then known. The word "candle", where used in the
Authorized Version is a mistranslation.
And put it under a bushel. A common measure, found in every Jewish
house, and containing about a peck, or eight quarts dry measure.
5:16 Even so let
your light shine before men1; that
they may see your good works2, and
glorify your Father who is in heaven3.
Even so let your light shine before men. The light of the Christian
is to shine not ostentatiously, but naturally and unavoidably.
That they may see your good works. It is to shine not only in his
teaching or profession, but in such works and actions as unprejudiced men
must acknowledge to be real excellencies.
And glorify your Father who is in heaven. Moreover, it must so
shine that it shall not win praise for itself, but for him who kindled it.
Men do not praise the street lamps which protect them from robbery and
assault, but they praise the municipal administration which furnishes the
5:17 Think not
that I came to destroy the law1 or
the prophets2: I came not to
destroy, but to fulfil3.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. (A mountain plateau not far from Capernaum.) D.
RELATION OF MESSIANIC TEACHING TO OLD TESTAMENT AND TRADITIONAL TEACHING. Matthew
Think not that I came to destroy the law. This verse constitutes a
preface to the section of the sermon which follows it. It is intended to
prevent a misconstruction of what he was about to day. "Destroy"
is here used in antithesis, not with perpetuate, but with fulfill. To
destroy the law would be more than to abrogate it, for it was both a system
of statutes designed for the ends of government, and a system of types
foreshadowing the kingdom of Christ. To destroy it, therefore, would be both
to abrogate its statutes and prevent the fulfillment of its types. The
former, Jesus eventually did; the latter, he did not.
Or the prophets. As regards the prophets, the only way to destroy
them would be to prevent the fulfillment of the predictions contained in
I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. Instead of coming to destroy
either the law or the prophets, Jesus came to fulfill all the types of the
former, and (eventually) all the unfulfilled predictions of the latter. He
fulfills them partly in his own person, and partly by his administration of
the affairs of his kingdom. The latter part of the process is still going
on, and will be until the end of the world.
5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven
and earth pass away, one jot1 or
one tittle2 shall
in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished3.
Jot. The jot or yod (^y^) answering to our letter "i"
was the smallest of the Hebrew letters.
Tittle. The tittle was a little stroke of the pen, by which alone
some of the Hebrew letters were distinguished from others like them. To put
it in English, we distinguish the letter "c" from the letter
"e" by the tittle inside of the latter.
Shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be
accomplished. This passage not only teaches that the law was to remain
in full force until fulfilled, but it shows the precise accuracy with which
the law was given by God.
therefore shall break one of these least commandments1, and
shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven2:
but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be
called great in the kingdom of heaven3.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments.
Disobedience is a habit, and it is not easily laid aside. Hence he that is
unfaithful in that which is little will also be unfaithful in that which is
great. So also those who were disobedient and reckless under the Jewish
dispensation would be inclined to act in like manner in the new, or
Christian, dispensation: hence the warning.
And shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
Not only shall God call such least, but men also shall eventually do
likewise. Those who by a false system of interpretation, or an undue regard
for the traditions of men, enervate or annul the obligations of Christ's
laws and ordinances, and teach others to do the same, shall be held in low
esteem or contempt by the church or kingdom of God as fast as it comes to a
knowledge of the truth.
But whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the
kingdom of heaven. Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured by
conscientiousness in reference to its least commandments. Small Christians
obey the great commandments, but only the large are careful about the least.
5:20 For I say unto you, that except
your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees1,
ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven2.
Except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the
scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were models of
righteousness in their own sight and in that of the people, Jesus here laid
down a very high ideal.
Ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Though one
may now enter the kingdom of heaven having of himself far less righteousness
than that of the Pharisees, yet he must attain righteousness superior to
theirs, or he cannot abide in the kingdom.
A large portion of the sermon from this point on is a development of the
righteousness of the kingdom of heaven in contrast with old dispensation
righteousness and Pharisaic interpretation of it. The laws of Moses
regulated civil conduct, and being state laws, they could only have regard
to overt acts. But the laws of the kingdom of Christ are given to the
individual, and regulate his inner spiritual condition, and the very initial
motives of conduct; in it the spirit-feelings are all acts (1 John
5:21 Ye have heard
that it was said to them of old time1, Thou
shalt not kill2; and whosoever shall kill shall
be in danger of the judgment3:
Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time. The common
people, for the most part, knew the law only by its public reading, and
hence the exposition of the scribes which accompanied the readings shared in
their estimation the very authority of Scripture itself.
Thou shalt not kill. See Exodus
Shall be in danger of the judgment. Shall be liable to.
5:22 but I say unto you, that every one who
is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever
shall say to his brother, Raca1,
shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou
fool2, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.
Raca. An expression of contempt frequently used in rabbinical
writings, but of uncertain derivation, so that it may mean "empty
head" or "spit out"; that is, heretic.
Thou fool. Bloomfield says,
""Thou impious wretch"; folly and impiety being equivalent
with the Hebrews."
Shall be in danger of the hell fire. We have here three degrees of
criminality or offense as to the sin of anger: (1) Silent rage; (2) Railing
speech; (3) Bitter reproach (Psalms
14:1). With these are associated respectively three different degrees of
punishment. (1) The law of Moses provided for the appointment of judges, (Deuteronomy
16:18), and Josephus informs us that in each city there were seven
judges appointed (Ant. 4:8,14). This tribunal was known as the judgment, and
by it the case of the manslayer was determined. Compare Numbers
35:15,24,25 decision to the Sanhedrin, or they might themselves confine
the man in of the cities of refuge, or order him to be stoned to death. (2)
The second punishment would be the result of a trial before the Sanhedrin or
council. This chief court of the Jews sat at Jerusalem (Deuteronomy
17:8-13), and common men stood in great awe of it. (3) The third
punishment passes beyond the pale of human jurisdiction. It is the final
punishment--being cast into hell. The Scripture word of "hell" is
derived from the name of a place in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, called
the valley of Hinnom. It was a deep, narrow valley, lying southeast of
Jerusalem. The Greek word "Gehenna" (which we translate
"hell") is first found applied to it in the Septuagint translation
18:16. For the history of the valley, see the following passages of
18:16; 2 Kings
23:1-14; 2 Chronicles
28:3 2 Chronicles
33:6; 2 Chronicles
32:35. The only fire certainly known to have been kindled there was the
fire in which children were sacrificed to the god Moloch. This worship was
entirely destroyed by King Josiah, who polluted the entire valley so as to
make it an unfit place even for heathen worship. Some commentators endeavor
to make this third punishment a temporal one, and assert that fires were
kept burning in the valley of Hinnom, and that as an extreme punishment the
bodies of criminals were cast into those fires. But there is not the
slightest authentic evidence that any fire was kept burning there; nor is
there any evidence at all that casting a criminal into the fire was ever
employed by the Jews as a punishment. It was the fire of idolatrous worship
in the offering of human sacrifice which had given the valley its bad name.
This caused it to be associated in the mind of the Jews with sin and
suffering, and led to the application of its name, in the Greek form of it,
to the place of final and eternal punishment. When the conception of such a
place as hell was formed, it was necessary to give it a name, and there was
no word in the Jewish language more appropriate for the purpose than the
name of this hideous valley. It is often used in the New Testament, and
always denotes the place of final punishment (Matthew
3:6). We should note that while sin has stages, God takes note of it
from its very first germination in the heart, and that a man's soul is
imperiled long before his feelings bear their fruitage of violence and
5:23 If therefore1
thou art offering thy gift at the altar2,
and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee,
If therefore. Having forbidden anger, Jesus now proceeds to lay
down the course for reconciliation.
Thou art offering thy gift at the altar. That which was popularly
esteemed the highest act of worship.
5:24 leave there thy gift before the altar,
and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and
then come and offer thy gift1.
First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Reconciliation takes precedence of all other duties, even of offerings made
to God. A very important teaching in these days, when men, by corrupt
practices, by extortionate combinations, and by grinding the face of the
poor, accumulate millions of dollars and then attempt to placate God by
bestowing a little of their pocket change upon colleges and missionary
societies. God hears and heeds the voice of the unreconciled brethren, and
the gift is bestowed upon the altar in vain. The offering of unclean hands
is an abomination. The lesson teaches us to be reconciled with all who bear
grudges against us, and says nothing as to whether their reasons are
sufficient or insufficient, just or unjust. Stier writes,
"It is enough to say, I have naught against "him", and so
5:25 Agree with thine
adversary1 quickly, while thou
art with him in the way2; lest haply the adversary deliver
thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the
officer3, and thou be cast into
Thine adversary. Opponent in a lawsuit.
While thou art with him in the way. On the road to the judge.
The officer. One answering somewhat to our sheriff.
And thou be cast into prison. Bengel says,
"In this brief allegory one is supposed to have an adversary at law
who has just cause against him, and who will certainly gain a verdict when
the case comes to court. The plaintiff himself used to apprehend the
The defendant is, therefore, advised to agree with this adversary while
the two are alone on the way to the judge, and thus prevent a trial. Jesus
still has in mind the preceding case of one who has given offense to his
brother. Every such one is going to the final judgment, and will there be
condemned unless he now becomes reconciled to his brother.
5:26 Verily I say unto thee, thou
shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing21.
Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last
farthing. This is the text on which the Roman Catholic Church has built
its doctrine of purgatory, and one of those on which the Universalists build
theirs of final restoration. But neither "prison" nor
"till" necessarily point to ultimate deliverance. Compare 2 Peter
1:6. The allusion here is of course to imprisonment for debt. In such a
case the debtor was held until the debt was paid, either by himself or some
friend. If it were not paid at all, he remained in prison until he died. In
the case which this is made to represent, the offender would have let pass
all opportunity to make reparation and no friend can make it for him;
therefore, the last farthing will never be paid, and he must remain a
prisoner forever. So far, therefore, from being a picture of hope, it is one
which sets forth the inexorable rigor of divine justice against the hardened
and impenitent sinner. It is intended to teach that men cannot pay their
debts to God, and therefore they had better obtain his forgiveness through
faith during these days of grace. It exposes the vain hope of those who
think that God will only lightly exact his debts. God knows only complete
forgiveness or complete exaction. This is an action founded upon the
perfection of his nature.
Farthing. The Greek word translated "farthing" is derived
from the Latin "quadrans", which equals the fourth part of a Roman
"As", a small copper or bronze coin which had become common in
Palestine. The farthing was worth about one-fifth part of a cent.
5:27 Ye have heard that it was said, Thou
shalt not commit adultery1:
Thou shalt not commit adultery. See Exodus
5:28 but I say unto you, that
every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her1 hath
committed adultery with her already in his heart2.
That every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her, etc.
Here, as in reference to murder (Matthew
5:21,22), Jesus legislates against the thought which lies back of the
act. He cuts off sin at its lowest root. The essence of all vice is
Hath committed adultery with her already in his heart Those who
indulge in unchaste imaginations, desires, and intentions are guilty before
God (2 Peter
5:29 And if thy
right eye1 causeth thee to
stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee2: for it is
profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole
body be cast into hell.
And if thy right eye. The organ of reception.
Causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee, etc.
These words indicate decision and determination, and suggest the conduct of
a surgeon who, to protect the rest of the body, unflinchingly severs the
5:30 And if thy
right hand1 causeth thee to
stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee2: for it is
profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole
body go into hell.
And if thy right hand. The instrument of outward action.
Causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee, etc.
Jesus here emphasizes the earnestness with which men should seek a sinless
life. To this the whole Scripture constrains us by the terrors of hell, and
encourages us by the joys of heaven. The right eye and hand and foot were
regarded as the most precious (Zechariah
29:20), but it is better to lose the dearest thing in life than to lose
one's self. To be deprived of all earthly advantage than to be cast into
hell. Of course the Savior does not mean that we should apply this precept
literally, since bodily mutilation will not cure sin which resides in the
will and not in the organ of sense or action. A literal exaction of the
demands of this precept would turn the church into a hospital. We should
blind ourselves by taking care not to look with evil eyes; we should maim
ourselves by absolutely refusing to go to forbidden resorts, etc.
3:5) is a similar expression.
5:31 It was said
also1, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her
a writing of divorcement:
It was said also. See Deuteronomy
5:32 but I say unto you, that
every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication,
maketh her an adulteress1: and whosoever
shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery2.
That every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of
fornication, maketh her an adulteress. The mere fact of divorce did not
make her an adulteress, but it brought her into a state of disgrace from
which she invariably sought to free herself by contracting another marriage,
and this other marriage to which her humiliating situation drove her made
her an adulteress.
Whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.
The law of divorce will be found at Deuteronomy
24:1-4. Jesus explains that this law was given by Moses on account of
the hardness of the people's heart; that is, to prevent greater evils (Matthew
19:8). The law permitted the husband to put away the wife when he found
"some unseemly thing in her" (Genesis
24:1). But Jesus here limits the right of divorce to cases of
unchastity, and if there be a divorce on any other ground, neither the man
nor the woman can marry again without committing adultery (Matthew
19:9). Such is Jesus' modification of the Old Testament law, and in no
part of the New Testament is there any relaxation as to the law here set
forth. It is implied that divorce for unchastity breaks the marriage bond,
and it is therefore held almost universally, both by commentators and
moralists, that the innocent party to such a divorce can marry again. Of
course the guilty part could not, for no one is allowed by law to reaps the
benefits of his own wrong. For further light on the subject, see Romans
7:1-3; 1 Corinthians
7:10-16,39. It is much to be regretted that in many Protestant countries
the civil authorities have practically set aside this law of Christ by
allowing divorce and remarriage for a variety of causes. No man who respects
the authority of Christ can take advantage of such legislation.
5:33 Again, ye have heard that it was said
to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself,
but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths1:
Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine
oaths. See Leviticus
23:21. It will be seen from the quotation given by Jesus at that the law
permitted oaths made unto the Lord. It was not the intention of Jesus to
repeal this law. But the Jews, looking upon this law, construed it as giving
them exemption from the binding effect of all other oaths.
5:34 but I say
unto you, swear not at all1; neither by the heaven, for it
is the throne of God;
But I say unto you, Swear not at all. According to the Jews'
construction, no oath was binding in which the sacred name of God did not
directly occur. They therefore coined many other oaths to suit their
purposes, which would add weight to their statements or promises, which
however, would not leave them guilty of being forsworn if they spoke
Neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God. But Jesus showed
that all oaths were ultimately referable to God, and that those who made
them would be forsworn if they did not keep them. To prevent this evil
practice of loose swearing, Jesus lays down the prohibition, "Swear not
at all"; but the universality of this prohibition is distributed by the
specifications of these four forms of oaths, and is, therefore, most
strictly interpreted as including only such oaths.
5:35 nor by the earth, for it is the
footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the
city of the great King1.
The city of the great King. See Psalms
5:36 Neither shalt
thou swear by thy head1, for thou canst not make one hair
white or black.
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head. Looking at the details of the
paragraph, we find that oaths by heaven and by the earth, by Jerusalem and
by the head, are utterly meaningless save as they have reference to God.
"Swearing is a sin whereunto neither profit incites, nor pleasure
allures, nor necessity compels, nor inclination of nature persuades."
5:37 But let your
speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay1: and whatsoever is more
than these is of the evil [one].
Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay. Jesus did not intend to
abolish now, in advance of the general abrogation of the law, those statutes
of Moses which allowed, and in some instances required, the administration
of an oath. See Exodus
5:19. What we style the judicial oaths of the law of Moses then were not
included in the prohibition. This conclusion is also reached when we
interpret the prohibition in the light of authoritative examples; for we
find that God swore by himself (Genesis
7:21). Jesus answered under oath before the Sanhedrin (Matthew
26:63), and Paul also made oath to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians
1:23). See also Romans
1:8; 1 Corinthians
10:5,6. We conclude, then, that judicial oaths, and oaths taken in the
name of God on occasions of solemn religious importance, are not included in
the prohibition. But as these are the only exceptions found in Scriptures,
we conclude that all other oaths are forbidden.
5:38 Ye have heard
that it was said1, An eye for an
eye, and a tooth for a tooth2:
Ye have heard that it was said. See Exodus
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The "lex
talonis", or law of like for like, was the best possible rule in a rude
state of society, its object being not to sacrifice the second eye, but to
save both, by causing a man when in a passion to realize that every injury
which he inflicted upon his adversary he would in the end inflict upon
himself. From this rule the scribes drew the false inference that revenge
was proper, and that a man was entitled to exercise it. Thus a law intended
to prevent revenge was so perverted that it was used as a warrant for it.
5:39 but I say
unto you, resist not him that is evil1: but
whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also2.
But I say unto you, resist not him that is evil. This command which
enjoins non-resistance, like most of the other precepts of this sermon, does
not demand of absolute, unqualified pacivity at all times and under all
circumstances. In fact, we may say generally of the whole sermon on the
mount that it is not a code for slaves, but an assertion of principles which
are to be interpreted and applied by the children of freedom. We are to
submit to evil for principle's sake and to accomplish spiritual victories,
and not in an abject, servile spirit as blind followers of a harsh and
exacting law. On the contrary, taking the principle, we judge when and how
to apply it as best we can. Absolute non-resistance may so far encourage
crime as to become a sin. As in the case of the precept about swearing just
above, Jesus distributes the universal prohibition by the specification of
certain examples, which in this case are three in number.
But whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other
also. This first example is taken from the realm of physical violence.
The example given, a slap in the face, has been regarded as a gross insult
in all ages, but it is not an assault which imperils life. We find this
precept illustrated by the conduct of the Master himself. He did not
literally turn the other cheek to be smitten, but breathed forth a mild and
gentle reproof where he might have avenged himself by the sudden death of
his adversary (John
18:22,23). The example of Paul also is given, but it is not so perfect
as that of the Master (Acts
23:2-5). Self-preservation is a law of God giving rights which, under
most circumstances, a Christian can claim. He may resist the robber, the
assassin and all men of that ilk, and may protect his person and his
possessions against the assaults of the violent and lawless (Acts
16:35-39). But when the honor of Christ and the salvation of man demands
it, he should observe this commandment even unto the very letter.
5:40 And if any
man would go to law with thee1, and take away thy coat,
let him have thy cloak also.
And if any man would go to law with thee. The second case is one of
judicial injustice, and teaches that the most annoying exactions are to
endured without revenge.
And take away thy coat let him have thy cloak also. The coat was
the inner garment, and the cloak was the outer or more costly one. The
creditor was not allowed to retain it over night, even when it was given to
him as a pledge from the poor, because it was used for a bed-covering (Exodus
22:26,27). The idea therefore is, according to Mansel,
"Be ready to give up even that which by law cannot be taken."
This case, as the one just above, is also an instance of petty
persecution, and shows that the command does not forbid a righteous appeal
to the law in cases where large and important interests are involved.
5:41 And whosoever
shall compel thee to go one mile1, go
with him two2.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile. The Roman mile; it
was 142 yards short of the English mile.
Go with him two. This third instance is a case of governmental
oppression. It supposes a man to be impressed by government official to go a
mile. The custom alluded to is said to have originated with Cyrus, king of
Persia, and it empowered a government courier to impress both men and horses
to help him forward. For an example of governmental impress, see Luke
23:26. The exercise of this power by the Romans was exceedingly
distasteful to Jews, and this circumstance gave a special pertinency to the
Savior's mention of it. (See Herodotus 8:98; Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 8:6,7;
Josephus Ant. 12:2,3). The command, "Go with him two", requires a
cheerful compliance with the demands of a tyrannical government--a doubling
of the hardship or duty required rather than a resistance to the demand. But
here again the oppression is not an insupportable one. A man might go two
miles and yet not lose his whole day's labor. The Savior chooses these
lesser evils because they bring out more distinctly the motives of conduct.
If we resist the smaller evils of life, we thereby manifest a spirit of
pride-seeking revenge; but when the larger evils come upon us, they waken
other motives. A man may strive for self-protection when life is threatened
without any spirit of revenge. He may appeal to the law to protect his
property without any bitterness toward the one who seeks to wrest it from
him, and he may set himself against the oppression of his government from
the loftiest motives of patriotism. If revenge slumbers in our breast,
little injuries will waken it as quickly as big ones.
5:42 Give to him
that asketh thee1, and from him
that would borrow of thee turn not thou away2.
Give to him that asketh thee. Jesus here turns from the negative to
the positive side of life. Our conduct, instead of being selfish and
revengeful, should be generous and liberal. A benevolent disposition casts
out revenge as light does darkness.
And from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. No
lending was provided for by the law of Moses except for benevolent purposes,
for no interest was allowed, and all debts were canceled every seventh year.
The giving and lending referred to, then, are limited to cases of real want,
and the amount given or loaned is to be regulated accordingly. Giving or
lending to the encouragement of vice or indolence cannot, of course, be here
included. Good actions are marred if they bear evil fruit.
5:43 Ye have heard
that it was said1, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate
Ye have heard that it was said. See Leviticus
Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. The law
commanding love will be found at Leviticus
19:18, while the sentiment "hate thy enemy" is not found in
the law as a precept. But the Jews were forbidden by law to make peace with
the Canaanites (Exodus
23:6), and the bloody wars which were waged by God's own command
inevitably taught them to hate them. This was the feeling of their most
pious men (1 Chronicles
20:3; 2 Kings
13:19), and it found utterance even in their devotional hymns; e.g., Psalms
139:21,22. It is a true representation of the law, therefore, in its
practical working, that it taught hatred of one's enemies. This is one of
the defects of the Jewish dispensation, which, like the privilege of divorce
at will, was to endure but for a time.
5:44 but I say unto you, love
your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you1;
Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you. To love an
enemy has appeared to many persons impossible, because they understand the
word "love" as here expressing the same feeling in all respects
which are entertained toward a friend or a near kinsman. But love has many
shades and degrees. The exact phase of it which is here enjoined is best
understood in the light of examples. The parable of the good Samaritan is
given by Jesus for the express purpose of exemplifying it (Luke
10:35-37); his own example of praying on the cross for those who
crucified him serves the same purpose, as does also the prayer of Stephen
made in imitation of it (Luke
7:60). The feeling which enables us to deal with an enemy after the
manner of the Samaritan, or Jesus, or Stephen, is the love for our enemies
which is here enjoined. It is by no means an impossible feeling. Prayer,
too, can always express it, for as Hooker says,
"Prayer is that which we always have in our power to bestow, and
they never in theirs to refuse."
5:45 that ye may
be sons of your Father who is in heaven1: for
he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good2, and
sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
That ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Jesus here
gives two reasons why we should obey this precept: (1) That we may be like
God; (2) That we may be unlike publicans and sinners. Of course right action
toward our enemies does not make us sons of God, but it proves us such by
showing our resemblance to him. We are made children of God by regeneration
For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, etc. God,
in his daily conduct toward the children of this earth, does not carry his
discrimination to any great length. Needful blessings are bestowed lavishly
5:46 For if ye
love them that love you, what reward have ye1? do not even
the publicans2 the same?
For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Jesus
teaches that our religion is worth little if it begets in us no higher love
than that which is shown by natural, worldly men. Matthew Henry writes,
"Christianity is more than humanity."
The publicans. The Roman publican proper was a wealthy man of the
knightly order, who purchased from the state the privilege of collecting
their taxes, but the publicans mentioned in the Scripture were their
servants--the men who actually collected the taxes, and the official name
for them was "portitores". These latter were sometimes freedmen or
slaves, and sometimes natives of the province in which the tax was
collected. The fact that the Jews were a conquered people, paying tax to a
foreign power, made the tax itself odious, and hence the men through whom it
was extorted from them were equally odious. These men were regarded in the
double aspect of oppressors and traitors. The odium thus attached to the
office prevented men who had any regard for the good opinion of their
countrymen from accepting it, and left it in the hands of those who had no
self-respect and no reputation. See Luke
5:47 And if ye salute your brethren only,
what do ye more [than others?] do not even the Gentiles the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]?
The Jews despised the Gentiles, so that they did not usually salute them.
This was especially true of the Pharisees. The morality, therefore, of this
sect proved to be, in this respect, no better than that of the heathen.
Salutation has always been an important feature in Eastern social life. The
salutation, with all its accompaniments, recognized the one saluted as a
5:48 Ye therefore
shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect1.
Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Luke emphasizes the particular characteristic of God's perfection which
Jesus has been discussing, namely, mercy (Luke
6:36); but Matthew records the broader assertion which bids us resemble
God's perfections in all their fullness and universality. God is our model.
Everything short of that is short of what we ought to be. God cannot be
satisfied with that which is imperfect. This requirement keeps us in mind of
our infirmities, and keeps us at work. Like Paul, we must be ever striving (Philippians
3:12). Our standard is not the perfection of great and heroic men, but
of the infinite Creator himself.